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Disneyland's Home of the Future

Plastic Didn't Feel Like Home
Predictions from the past that haven't come true ... yet  
NINA WASSERMAN / Our Future Website (undated)

Predictions from the past that haven't come true ... yet

disneyland house of the future

Monsanto's all-plastic house, built on a pedestal with four floating wings, also featured furnishings of plastic, from rugs to chairs (below). While it didn't prove popular with homebuyers, it did prove extremely difficult to demolish.

Monsanto Photo

According to the Brooklyn Museum of Art, the House of the Future "was a design anomaly: though fabricated from materials concocted in an industrial laboratory - the company's motto was "Better Living Through Chemistry" - the house took the shape of a flower from another galaxy, an abstract sculpture with four, lobate wings or blossoms budding from a central stem. No longer Le Corbusier's "machine for living," the family home was a work of modern art, in which function was subordinate to the dramatized forms of eyes, legs, fingers, lungs, and a pliant skin of sleek white plastic. The all-plastic wings were composed of modular panels in contoured shapes filled with foam insulation. Each one featured a picture window - a huge eye with the proportions of a TV screen."

Miracle of the post-World War II age, and found in homes everywhere. By the early '50s, plastic housewares, countertops, flooring, wall tiles, upholstery and appliances were hot items on the market. At about the same time, engineers at the Monsanto Chemical Co. asked, "Why not encase it all in a plastic house?" Back to the Future Index:

In 1957, they teamed up with architects from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and built their vision of the House of 1986 at Disneyland in Anaheim, Calif.

The house was made of 30,000 pounds of plastic, a monolith to the industry. The walls of the four- winged home were washable plastic. Even the furnishings were used to show off the versatility of the synthetic material, from rugs to chairs.

"In one bold leap, Monsanto and its cooperating partners feel design and engineering temporarily have gone ahead rather than merely kept the traditional two paces behind the housing needs and desires of Americans," Monsanto boasted in a 1957 publication. They called it a "harbinger of what is yet to come in residential buildings."

The plastic house, -- which Monsanto said could be built with $7,500 to $15,000 worth of materials, could not rot. It foiled termites. It could come in a variety of permanent colors. The construction materials were lighter and more moldable than steel. It could be taken apart and reassembled anywhere. And it would be at least as durable as brick or wood.

But for all its virtues, the House of the Future quickly became an idea of the past.

"We are creatures of habit and we like tradition," said Sarah Susanka, architect and author of "The Not So Big House of the Future. "People could look at these houses with fascination, but we still like a house that looks like a house. The modern movement in architecture failed for that reason.

"There's a natural evolution. But the House of the Future tried to jump way into the future without any reference to a house in our minds," she said.

Monsanto's vision was one of several alternative houses pitched by companies over the years. While Monsanto was wowing Disney fans in the United States, the French coal industry, in a effort to salvage the waning popularity of the fuel, came up with a plastic house using coal chemicals.

Even Thomas Edison, in an effort to help the poor move out of tenements, designed a home in 1902 that could be built in four days. Made of pure poured concrete, it could be purchased for about $300.

As recently as 10 years ago, General Electric showcased a house in Pittsfield, Mass., composed of at least 10 percent plastic construction. Sinks, countertops, doors, floors and even the roof was made of heat-resistant plastic.

"The point was definitely not to push a total plastic house. It would have been frivolous because it is not always a better and cheaper substitute for traditional materials," said Rick Pocock, GE's general manager of marketing and communications. "Wood still surpasses plastic for aesthetic value, for the fine details of the home."

Monsanto's house is the one prototype that seemed to hold the most promise. Architects designed it to get the best use out of plastics.

They did not want to make plastic two-by-fours and build an otherwise traditional house. Instead, it was perched on a pedestal and had a 16-by-16-foot core with four floating wings anchored at the center. The wings were constructed from 16 factory-made molded plastic sheets that were bolted together.

Before the house went up for public use, Monsanto engineers tested its design first by weighing down the roof of a wing with seven barrels of water. To make sure the plastic would not warp in heat, they then doused it with water heated to a piping 186 degrees. It passed the test.

After attracting a total of 20 million visitors from 1957 to 1967, Disney finally tore the house down, but discovered it would not go down without a fight.

According to Monsanto Magazine, wrecking balls literally bounced off the glass-fiber, reinforced polyester material. Torches, jackhammers, chain saws and shovels did not work. Finally, choker cables were used to squeeze off parts of the house bit by bit to be trucked away.

"It was a testimony to how strong the house was," said Disney spokesman Ray Gomez.

Sturdiness aside, Chicago, Ill., architect Joe Valerio said, "It was clear that the Monsanto notion of the future home was not a great prediction." He said the House of the Future was panned in architecture school in the '70s.

There have been others who have tried to change the construction formula of a house with no success.

The pre-fabricated metal home enjoyed brief popularity. Richard Buckminster Fuller designed the Dymaxion House in 1929. Made of aluminum sheets, it looked like a giant silver Hershey's kiss. It was intended to be mass-produced for $1,500, the price of a car back then.

On Long Island, architects Lawrence Kocher and Albert Frey designed an aluminum house on stilts in 1931. One was built in Huntington, and in 1987 it was moved to the New York Institute of Technology in Central Islip to be studied.

Today's architects do not predict huge changes in housing design and materials anytime soon, and don't ever expect plastic houses to become a success. "The charms of sitting on plastic chairs continue to elude most of us," Susanka wrote. "A house is not an expression of technology; it's an expression of the people who live in it.

Nina Wasserman is a freelance writer.
source: http://future.newsday.com/9/fbak0924.htm 7jul02

Renovating the Future 


The bandages won't be off until 1998, but one of the world's most popular visions of the future - Disney's Tomorrowland, in Anaheim, California - is getting a full-body makeover.

Walt himself devised the '50s original, which featured a car-centric Autopia and an all-plastic House of the Future. For 1998's revamp, Disney chair Michael Eisner more than half-seriously suggested Montana as the vista of the future. (Take a bow, Ted Turner.) But after toying with a techno-bucolic idyll, imagineers fell back on a Jules Verne-inspired "classic future." Some Jetsonesque relics will remain. The clunky People Mover is to be accelerated into one of the fastest Disneyland rides ever. And the techno-idyll lives on, literally, the land is rich in edible plants. No eating the shrubs, kids.

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